Beliefnet
An agency of the United Methodist Church has set up a fund tocollect donations to pay for a lawyer for the father of Elian Gonzalez,prompting confusion in some church circles that tithes and offeringswere being used to compensate the lawyer.

According to a church news release, the executive committee of thechurch's Board of Church and Society set up the fund last month afterJuan Miguel Gonzalez, the 6-year-old boy's father, asked for legalrepresentation in his bid to have his son returned to Cuba.

Elian Gonzalez has been in Miami since November after the boatcarrying him, his mother and several others capsized off the Floridacoast. Only Elian survived. The boy's Miami relatives want to keep himhere, but his father and Cuban President Fidel Castro want him returnedto Cuba.

The National Council of Churches has been instrumental in the pushto return the boy to his father. Former NCC General Secretary Joan BrownCampbell and the Rev. Thom White Wolf Fassett, the head of the church'spublic policy arm, have traveled to Cuba several times to meet with theboy's father and Cuban officials.

Fassett said the fund was started to collect voluntary donations tohelp pay for the lawyer, former Clinton defense attorney Gregory B.White. Fassett said no church funds were being used.

"The fund is established specifically to receive voluntarycontributions from those who wish to support the legal representation ofJuan Miguel Gonzalez," Fassett said. "And people are giving to it. Theyare giving $10. They're giving $100. They're giving $10,000."

"Rumors" had spread throughout church circles that church tithes andofferings were being used for the lawyer. Fassett said the fund isentirely voluntary, and donations are tax-deductible. Fassett said heand Campbell were concerned that Juan Miguel Gonzalez would not get fairrepresentation in U.S. courts.

Fassett could not be reached to say how much money had beencollected.

The ongoing political tug-of-war between Elian's Miami family andU.S. and Cuban officials is expected to end sometime in the next week.Juan Miguel Gonzalez has been granted a visa to come to the UnitedStates to get his son, and details are slowly being worked out over thehand-over of the boy.

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